Thursday, May 31, 2007


Making it Precise

I arrived in Glasgow just this morning, and I took the flight to finally get around to reading Insensitive Semantics. For now, I'll limit myself to offering a couple of brief quotes with commentary:

'Focus on this question: If a range of people can't all be ready, can they at least all be ready for an exam? Is that something a range of people can have in common? We suppose the answer must be 'yes'.' (168)

I'd have thought anyone who'd taught undergraduates would take the answer to this to be 'no'.

More seriously, we're given a 7-step program to fix the minimal proposition expressed by an utterance of sentence S on 144-5. Step 5.d is:

'Precisify every vague expression in S.' (145)

How? One of the motivations for supervaluational treatments of vagueness is that they let you reason with sentences with vague constituents as if they were perfectly precise, but without committing us to the idea that there's a uniquely privileged way of precisifying them, or even that it makes sense to think we could precisify them if we wanted to. Supervaluationism is, in part, a response to the difficulties inherent in the idea that we can sharpen vague expressions. So how are we meant to go about taking step 5.d?

Cappelen and Lepore do work through an example sentence, but sadly they simply assume 'for the sake of argument' that it contains no vague expressions. However, they weren't offering an argument; this all happens in a section headed 'Semantic Minimalism: Illustration', so I can only presume they were meant to be offering an illustration of how to apply the 7 steps to a particular sentence in order to fix the minimal proposition it expresses. So I don't see how the trick's to be pulled with 5.d, and they just glossed right over the issue in the very section supposed to illustrate how it's done.

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